It started during a simple conversation with some good friends I’d known from college. We were chatting about Japan and vowed to take a trip there to catch cherry blossom season. Almost two years later and after several false starts, we were finally going to Japan – not for the blossoms but to catch the Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix. Talk about a turn of events!
Jay was the instigator. James was in as soon as he heard the idea. The three of us had attended our first Formula 1 race the previous year in Austin. We had such a great time at the U.S. Grand Prix that we were certain we’d return to a future race, perhaps in another country.
How We Got Tickets
So when we found out that General Admission tickets for the Japanese Grand Prix were going on sale online in July, we were definitely interested. And then we found out GA tickets cost $90 for three days. We were sold.
The ticket-buying process was simple. I went to the official Formula 1 site and purchased the GA tickets the day they came out. They didn’t sell out right away so it was nice to not experience Coachella-levels of stress. It took a few clicks and we were good. The physical tickets came in the mail several weeks before the race.
Before we knew it, it was nearing the first weekend of October. We were ecstatic!
Traveling to Japan
The Thursday before race weekend, I departed from SFO, bound for Nagoya with a quick layover at Tokyo. The flight itself was fairly straightforward to book. I basically used the sign-up bonus for my Chase MileagePlus Explorer Card to score roundtrip tickets.
A pro-tip here: instead of looking for flights to Tokyo and then having to take Japan Rail to Nagoya, look for flights to Nagoya (NGO) – most have a stop in Tokyo anyway so you’re essentially skipping the train ride for a much faster plane ride.
I arrived in Nagoya Friday evening without a hitch, caught the Meitetsu train from the airport to Nagoya station, then stayed solo at a hostel close to the station. Jay and James would be arriving in time for Sunday’s Race Day, so I was ready to solo Saturday’s Qualifying Race.
Getting from Nagoya to Suzuka Circuit
Getting to the circuit for the race was the trickiest part of the trip. I’d spent a good amount of time prior to and during the trip reading about it and figuring out how to best do it. Thanks to japan-guide, I learned there are two preferred methods. I tried both options over the weekend.
The first method is the more common approach and involves taking Japan Rail. Many travelers already have the Japan Rail pass so the JR portion of this trip is covered. From Nagoya Station, take the JR Rapid Mie directly to Suzuka Circuit Ino Station. Normally, there’s a transfer to another railway line, but for race weekend, we stayed on the same train the entire time and just paid the difference at a tent booth once we got to the final station. From Suzuka Circuit Ino Station, it’s a 25-minute walk to the front gates. Just follow the crowd and you’re golden.
There are also Limited Express JR trains if you want a reserved seat, but you have to book in advance and it costs extra. We’re young(ish) whippersnappers so we didn’t mind standing during the ride.
The second method is less common but my preferred approach. It bypasses JR entirely and takes the local railway, the Kintetsu Line. From Nagoya Station, take the Kintetsu Express to Shiroko Station. At that station, there were buses just for race weekend shuttling fans to the track, with decent fares that they collected at tent booths after arriving at Suzuka Circuit. Since I didn’t have the JR pass, this was also slightly cheaper for me, and the buses cut down on the total walking time from 25 to 10 minutes.
Both methods took maybe an hour and a half all-in to get from the starting point to the entrance gates. Another pro-tip: if there are any return tickets, get them the same time you get the departure tickets. It’ll save a ton of time and headaches when the rest of the crowds return with you after the races.
Finally, I was standing at the front gates of Suzuka Circuit, one of the most famous tracks in Formula 1. Originally built as a test track by Honda in 1962, Suzuka has seen its share of drama, victory, and tragedy through the years. And since the Japanese Grand Prix is at the tail-end of the season, the track has hosted quite a number of deciding races in its history, including the infamous Senna-Prost collisions in 1989 & 1991 that sealed each season’s championship.
Suzuka is also many drivers’ favorite track because it’s highly technical with challenging corners. Add to that some of the most passionate local fans, and it’s easy to see why Suzuka has the reputation that it does. Seriously, where else would you spot people dressed up in Ferrari Samurai costumes and wear red horse heads? I spotted lots of creative DIY attire and attentive fans throughout the weekend.
What To Do
So, what happens over race weekend? It’s basically a big three-day festival where attendees explore the circuit grounds, take lots of pictures, enjoy good food & beer, check out merch booths, listen to drivers’ panels – I could go on and on. But the focal point are the races, and there are many. From practices, to other league races, to the Qualifying Race, to the Big Race, these sessions were scheduled all three days.
The circuit grounds at Suzuka was massive. As soon as I entered, I found myself in a mini amusement park, complete with thrill rides and a giant Ferris wheel. Walking further in, I spotted the merchandise shops and booths, where I spent time checking out fun race souvenirs and team gear.
Once I got to the stands, I decided to walk around the track, thinking I’d lap it in no time. After what felt like well over an hour, I was still not even close to finishing the walk. The track is that big! One of the coolest features of Suzuka is that views of the track are super accessible to fans. At many points during my loop-hike, I stopped by the fence and found myself within yards of the racetrack. There were also plenty of food stands, restrooms, and vending machines throughout the area.
General Admission Seating
On Saturday, I was lucky to arrive in time for the Qualifying Race, where the drivers go through three rounds of time attacks to determine the starting grid order. After exploring the entire area, I got to the GA section, which had first-come-first served seating at one of the most famous corners of the track – Spoon Corner.
The cool thing about GA tickets is that it grants access to multiple sections near that corner – G, L, M, N, O. Since it was open seating, I took the time to scout out the viewpoints from all the GA sections, getting to know the area a bit better in preparation for Sunday’s Race Day. I ended up enjoying the views from M the most. It had a perfect view of both the entry and exit of Spoon Corner.
Woohoo! The big day – Race Day – finally arrived on Sunday. James and Jay both arrived Saturday evening and we met up for dinner before checking into our Airbnb in Nagoya. Since we were still jet lagged, we woke up bright and early on Sunday to get to Suzuka.
With Race Day, the circuit grounds took on an electric atmosphere. There were definitely bigger crowds, and everywhere I looked I could see fans giddy in anticipation for the first lap. We got to the entrance, walked through the booths, and made a beeline to Spoon Corner. I was determined to snag a good seating area for the race.
We made it to M and spotted a promising spot next to the shade of some trees – it turned out to be perfect! We put down our picnic mats and bags and settled in. I picked up lunch and some beers from a nearby food stand and returned to our spot just as a bunch of military helicopters did a fly-over. It was time for the race!
Jay tuned into a Formula 1 race stream on his phone, and thanks to our pocket wi-fi we were able to watch the entire race in real-time. It was really cool to watch the cars battle it out on the screen, hear the Japanese announcers over the intercom, and then see those same cars zooming by our corner.
The race itself had a few dramatic moments during the first 20 minutes – Sainz crashed on the first lap, Raikkonen almost ran off the track at our corner, Vettel lost power to his car, and Ericsson crashed on the eighth lap. No injuries and the race continued.
After that, the race largely played out predictably. Apart from a few other hair-raising moments, the Japanese Grand Prix ended with Hamilton as the winner and ever closer to the championship. Another great day for Mercedes Petronas.
Check out the race highlights below:
A nice bonus – after the race, we got to walk on the track, the same track that had just hosted the Grand Prix! How cool is that? As I looked at all the fans smiling and the afternoon sun shining down on the tarmac, I thought about how awesome of an experience this all was.
From a discussion over wine to finally being in Japan in the flesh, everything played out the way it should have. After experiencing the amazing race track, fans, and activities at the Japanese Grand Prix, I’m now looking forward to the next race, hopefully in the near future!